If we accept that the Bulls are still very much playing like a Tom Thibodeau team in their first year under Fred Hoiberg, then I would ague that this week was a perfect distillation of everything that makes the Bulls the Bulls.
Heading into Saturday's game against the Hornets, the Bulls were the top seed in the East at 11-5. Then Nic Batum kicked their asses *again*, we came to the depressing realization that none of the big men are athletic enough to check Cody Zeller and a surprisingly legit Hornets team topped Chicago for the second time this year.
Monday night was a damn disaster. The Bulls led by 16 -- sixteen! -- heading into the fourth, but Brandon Knight went ham in the final period and Phoenix stormed back to steal a win. Wednesday night in Boston wasn't much better, as the Bulls' again went lifeless in the second half to lose their third straight game.
In the span of four days, the Bulls had gone from first to eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and it wasn't all that surprising. You can cover your head in spray paint but that doesn't mean people have to believe it's hair.
The Bulls had every reason to lose last night. They had been struggling on both ends, were forced to fly halfway across the country to play on the second end of a back-to-back and were facing a Clippers team that had won six of seven. So of course the Bulls won, with a newly unmasked Derrick Rose taking control in the fourth during the worst stretch of his career. As a rule, the Bulls only make sense when you expect them to do the opposite of what should be happening.
So now the Bulls sit at No. 5 in the East, from the top to the bottom to the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race all in less than a week. We are now 25 percent of the way through the NBA season, so this feels like a good time to take the temperature of both the team and the fanbase.
The Bulls are 12-8 with a point different of +0.4 that ranks No. 10 in the East. Are you buying or selling on the Bulls right now? Here are a few things to consider:
The defense rules: After beating the Clippers, the Bulls are now No. 3 in defensive efficiency by allowing only 96.9 points per 100 possessions. That's a sizable improvement from last year when the Bulls finished No. 11 in defense. It's amazing to consider that Thibodeau had three seasons where his team finished better than No. 3 in defense (back-to-back No. 1 finishes in 2011 and 2012, plus a No. 2 finish in 2014).
As Jason pointed out last week, teams have been missing an uncharacteristic amount of uncontested looks, so perhaps that No. 3 ranking is a bit of a mirage. But the defense has been trending up the rankings and not down lately, so who knows.
The offense suuucks: The Bulls have the second worst offense in the NBA. Worse than the Nets and the Lakers and Nuggets. Only the 76ers are scoring fewer points per 100 possessions and they're not even trying to field a competitive team.
The offense has three main problems: it's not getting to the foul line (No. 26 in free throw attempts per game), it's not taking enough three-pointers (No. 18 in three-pointers made despite being No. 6 in three-point percentage) and it's not hitting offensive glass (No. 21 in offensive rebound percentage).
It's all combined to make the Bulls a team that can't get easy buckets and doesn't shoot it particularly well from any part of the floor:
Derrick Rose is hitting rock bottom: I went over this last week, but: he can't make a layup, can't get to the foul line and has increased his number of mid-range shots without being able to make them with any consistency. As HungarianJordan has pointed out, he's also still not playing with enough pace even though he's seems convinced that he is.
And not to get too worked up over Rose's postgame quotes, but I also thought this comment following the collapse against the Suns was kind of bogus:
Rose: "When we go up 12, 14 points, we have to find ways or the right play calls to give us that boost."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 8, 2015
There's part of me that really believes he's saving himself for April and May, but it's hard to convince yourself of that when he's turning into objectively one of the worst players in the NBA. It's a tough time to be a D. Rose fan.
Joakim Noah is a conundrum: Noah is posting the second best rebounding rate of his career, the second best assist rate of his career and has a block rate which fits right in line with his prime years. He's also posting a woeful 37.3 true shooting percentage and is only averaging 3.4 points per game.
Noah looks a lot like the player we all know and love, but he just can't score anymore. I'm interested to see how the Noah-Niko pairing looks when we hit the halfway point of the season now that Taj Gibson is entrenched as the starter opposite Gasol.
What this team really needs is 2013 Noah to show up. While that's almost certainly wishful thinking, it's worth noting that Noah has a long history of getting better as the season goes on. We'll see.
There's also plenty to be made of Niko, Pau, Doug and the Dunleavy injury, but you probably stopped reading this column 400 words ago to tweet about Jason Heyward, so let's just wrap things up.
Bobby Portis thinks the Bulls should #FreeBobbyPortis
All timer: Bobby Portis dropped 3 "Bobby Portis" references in his interview, including a light-hearted "Free Bobby Portis" at end.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 6, 2015
Portis: "Once the time comes, I'll show the world what Bobby Portis can do." #freebobbyportis— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 6, 2015
The one silver lining I see to losing games in early December is perhaps it will convince Hoiberg to give Portis a chance at some point. I maintain the Bulls will be a better team with his energy and shooting ability. For a team that struggles against athletic big men, there's an in-house option waiting to be unleashed as soon the coaching staff is ready.
I still have no idea what dabbing is
Today I’ll be playing my 1000 #RegularSeason game & I wanna celebrate with you! Upload a video with your favorite play of the ones I’ve made— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) December 5, 2015
Dirk is a legend. I do enjoy how Pau makes normal words into hashtags, though. Who is searching Twitter for #RegularSeason????
The Booz News
I'm still astounded by how long Carlos Boozer leaves his mouth hanging open pic.twitter.com/Gpvcpx05mI— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 24, 2015
This has been the Booz News